All the Things You’re Radically Unprepared For When You Cross the Ocean

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As of today, we’ve been on the ground for five days in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s even more different than I imagined it would be, from the conversations interspersed with Arabic discussions, to the driving, to the cultural mandates. I’ve learned about a million things and had lots of great experiences I’m still trying to find the words for, so here’s some week one curveballs until I can write something more.

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One of the biggest adjustments of living in Lebanon is actually living in Lebanon. I’m staying in a beautiful two bedroom apartment in Achrafieh with two other girls. It has balconies on all sides with the most fantastic view of the mountains, and marble floors, and it’s fair share of quirks.

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The first two showers I took in cold water before we learned that you use a ladder to switch on the hot water tank an hour and a half before you want to shower. By third time I managed to figure out how to make the hot water work, and by figure out I mean I turned the knobs a bunch of times in a way I’m quite certain I’ll never be able to replicate.

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Washing your clothes is an interesting mixture of hand washing and using a machine, which also took me three times to master. On the third time I realized that you have to actually plug the machine in, duh, and promptly electrocuted myself doing so because I was all wet from, you know, hand washing my clothes. Afterwards you hang them on a line to dry, which teaches you two things quickly. 1. Wash your clothesline before you use it or you will wash your clothes again. 2. Use clothespins or you’d better make friends with your downstairs neighbors so they’ll give your towel back when it drops a flight.

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Things that would seem like the end of the world in America already seem normal here. When the power goes off in a restaurant or a car zooms past us inches away we don’t even flinch. The electricity goes off every day for three hours a day, between 6am and 6pm, so waking up or coming home to no power is no longer a surprise. The boys’ apartment lost power for five hours the second night, switching off while Logan was in the shower, so their team bonding reached a whole new level of Josh holding his iPhone flashlight over the top of the shower until he was done.

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We started with wifi in our apartment and, like the Americans we are, assumed it was unlimited. Twelve hours later when we ran out we realized it was more like cell phone data and it was all gone. Unfortunately, it costs fifty dollars to get more. Fortunately, we made friends with our neighbors downstairs. The Lebanese are as hospitable as they come, and when they invited us over they gave us turkish coffee, fresh fruit, and their wifi password for dessert.

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We’re constantly surrounded by flowing Arabic. Even though it’s impossible to not assume they’re talking about us 24/7 (cause they often are), we’re all dying to learn the language. Every minute and a half there’s a new “How do you say this in Arabic?” followed by three attempts and a “Why don’t you Americans know how to pronounce words?!” Compared to Arabic, the English language is absolutely blasé. There’s no chest or throat, it’s just sounds. Their alphabet is 28 characters with three different versions of “H.” Wish me luck.

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It’s true, McDonald’s is a luxury over here. It’s radically expensive, and they sell macaroons, and people hang out for hours. Plus, when your card doesn’t work in the machine and the workers don’t know how to explain that to you, nice Lebanese college students might climb in the drive-thru window to help you out.

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We spend at least half our days trying to relay the intricacies of American culture, and American slang. Spend a moment thinking of a definition for “dude” that you could explain to someone who speaks broken English. In exchange, we’ve started speaking English in their cadenced accent all the time and yelling “YELLA” (which means “come on” or “hurry” or sometimes just “um”) almost as consistently as they do.

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Every hour something new comes up that we feel completely unequipped to deal with, and there’s no doubt that my comfort zone ended somewhere on the train to the Miami airport. But Beirut is beautiful and the people are generous and every extra second I spend trying to figure out how to unlock my door for the fortieth time feels like a gift.

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